For most Americans alive on Sept. 11, 2001, there already is an altar of memory.
It does not require an exhibition of the artifacts of that historic day. It is already draped with emotion and framed by numberless sacrifices.
For those in New York City and Washington, where the attacks fell, recollection is perhaps freshest. For those who lost family and friends, the years have required no reminders of the day.
So is a museum superfluous?
Not so, said President Barack Obama at the dedication in New York City: “Here we tell their story, so that generations yet unborn will never forget.”
He is right.
The extraordinary courage and selflessness shown by so many, in the Pentagon that day and on a doomed flight where passengers showed themselves patriots, does not only sanctify the altars in our memories. It is a lesson, a series of lessons that can and should be told and retold at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
As Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, after another great trial of this country, there are limits to how much we can consecrate the events of that September, or the sacrifices that ensued as the nation pursued justice against our attackers across the globe.
The museum can do more than the exposition of loss on ground hallowed by heroism. For those of us who lived through those events, it will be a wrenching experience to see the talismans of lives of the victims, nearly 3,000 innocent souls, as the president said, of every race and creed and corner of the globe.
If they populate the altars of memory, their stories as victims and battlers against extremism can and will resonate for generations.
That museum is truly about the America that suffered, then responded, then marched toward justice.
We must have a museum and a memorial. It is a monument to the extended family of what the president called “a nation that stands tall and united and unafraid — because no act of terror can match the strength or the character of our country.”
“Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us; nothing can change who we are as Americans,” the president said.